Wednesday, June 08, 2011

First Lady Unveils Early Childhood Obesity Initiative, Launches "Let's Move Child Care"

Transforming the care of children from the cradle though pre-school: Mrs. Obama touts breastfeeding as she unveils five-point plan for child care facilities...
Speaking from CentroNia, a bilingual facility in Washington, DC, that is a model daycare facility, First Lady Michelle Obama today unveiled Let’s Move Child Care (LMCC). The latest component of her childhood obesity campaign, the new initiative has a five-point plan for transforming the early care environments for America's youngest citizens, from infants to pre-schoolers. (Above: Mrs. Obama in a CentroNia classroom, enjoying a "family style" meal with toddlers and staff)

The initiative, designed for home care environments and institutional facilities, mirrors the broader Let's Move! campaign for older children, with some age-specific tweaks. For instance, daycare providers will be saying goodbye to sugar-laden juice boxes and hello to breast milk. They'll be unable to use video games and movies as techno babysitters. They'll be adding fresh fruit and vegetables to every meal at their facilities, including snacks. Mrs. Obama toured CentroNia before her remarks, joined by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, who also spoke at the event. Cartwright sat with President Obama and Mrs. Obama at the Head Table during last night's State Dinner in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The new initiative fulfills a pledge Mrs. Obama made in February for Year Two of her national campaign, when she promised to focus on early childhood interventions. In the first year, Mrs. Obama devoted her efforts to programs that are now located in schools that begin at the kindergarten level, age five and up. She's had an outpouring of support for the programs aimed at older children, which included Congress passing legislation that provides sweeping changes to the kinds of foods offered in school cafeterias. (Above: Mrs. Obama during her remarks)

The early childcare component becomes a fifth pillar for Mrs. Obama's campaign, which has four key pillars: Making school environments healthier; increasing the amount of physical activity kids get at school and at home; improving access to healthy, affordable foods by eliminating all US food deserts by 2017; and offering parents better information so they can make healthy decisions for their families.

The First Lady, during her announcement, hailed LMCC as a critical program, because more than half of America's children under the age of five participate in daycare, and they are literally ballooning.

"Obesity rates among kids ages two to five have doubled in the last few decades," Mrs. Obama said. "More than half of obese children become overweight before their second birthday. It starts that early."

Daycare facilities can be "a real building block for an entire generation of healthy kids," the First Lady said, and cheered the five action points--which come in the form of a checklist- as easy to implement.

“Everyone is going to see that these small changes can make a big difference. If our kids get into the habit of getting up and playing, if their palates warm up to veggies at an early age, and if they’re not glued to a TV screen all day, they’re on their way to healthy habits for life,” Mrs. Obama said.

The five-point checklist includes limiting screen time for all kids and no screen time for babies under age two; ensuring that kids get one to two hours of physical activity each day while in daycare; fruit or vegetables offered at every meal including breakfast and snack time; serving only water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent juice; and encouraging mothers to breastfeed. There's a website with a new toolkit, Mrs. Obama announced; it's at

The changes require no investment in scarce cash resources from daycare providers, Mrs. Obama said.

"No one’s going to need to start a capital campaign to take part in Let’s Move Child Care," Mrs. Obama said. "No one’s going to have to hire new staff or completely overhaul their programming."

Perhaps no new staff will be required, but participating child care centers will have to re-think the way they engage in the business of teaching, feeding and entertaining and educating their tiny charges. Everything from food service ordering protocols to what the kids do during activity time could potentially change.

CentroNia relies on fresh foods that are locally sourced for meals, and serves these "family style," with teachers eating with the kids. Mrs. Obama dropped in on one of these meals during her visit, and watched some toddlers make good use of strawberries.

The facility also has an edible garden and a rooftop playground, as well as activity rooms filled with things like parachutes and soft, over sized blocks. CentroNia staff and parents, and representatives from organizations including Partnership for a Healthier America, Bright Horizons, Nemours Foundation, and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies gathered in a small assembly room at CentroNia to hear Mrs. Obama make her announcement. All have signed on to participate in the new initiative.

Parents want the changes, First Lady says...and touts breastfeeding
Let's Move Child Care was developed due to popular demand, Mrs. Obama said.

"One of the things that we’ve heard across the board -- from child care providers to health experts to moms and dads -- it is how vital it is to get our kids started on the path to a healthy life from the very beginning," Mrs. Obama said.

Parents, she said, would like to stay at home with their kids, but when they can't because they have to work, they don't want to see their best efforts "thwarted" by those they entrust their children to. That includes the mothers of babies: The breastfeeding component of LMCC will include educating mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding, and making it possible for working mothers to bring their pre-pumped milk to facilities, so it can be given to their babies. Mothers should also be welcomed to visit the childcare facilities to breastfeed during the child care day, according to the East Wing.

"Whether we do it in our workplaces or in our child care facilities, breastfeeding, as we have learned, is one of the ways to reduce the level of obesity in a child," Mrs. Obama said. "The longer a mother can breastfeed, the better off a child will be on a whole range of health issues...Those are the kind of things that workplaces -- that we all need to understand is an important part of a family's well being and a child's health."

The breastfeeding support alone will require some kind of investment on the part of childcare facilities, so the breast milk can be properly and safely stored and used.

The facilities that have signed on...
Mrs. Obama announced a long list of national day care providers that have already committed to making the changes necessary to join LMCC, including ones that work with the federal government. (Above: Mrs. Obama, Sebelius and Cartwright in one of CentroNia's classrooms)

The Department of Defense is signing up all of its facilities, which serve more than 200,000 children each day. The General Services Administration will enlist 100 percent of their facilities, which serve nearly 10,000 kids. Head Start is going to be encouraging its programs to meet the goals, Mrs. Obama said.

The nation's second largest childcare provider, Bright Horizons, will work with the Partnership for a Healthier America to implement the checklist at nearly 600 child care centers across the country. The Partnership is a coalition of non-profit foundations that was created in 2010 to support the Let's Move! campaign.

Mayors who have enrolled their communities in Let’s Move Cities and Towns are already making commitments to change their childcare programs, Mrs. Obama said, and she pointed to Omaha, Nebraska; Greenville, South Carolina; and Avondale, Arizona as places that have pledged to join the new initiative.

"We’re so excited that many child care providers are already committing to implement the checklist at their facilities," Mrs. Obama said.

The First Lady praised CentroNia for the use of the MyPlate guidelines for food service, as well as the use of local public parks for recreational activities, and said these are things that other facilities can adopt, too.

The First Lady called the results of the center's efforts "incredible," noting that the kids are bringing the message of healthy eating and fitness home, and asking for things like salad.

"They have a chef who cares deeply about what she is doing and how she is feeding the kids and the quality of the food, and that information is then being used to educate families," Mrs. Obama said.

In recent weeks, Mrs. Obama also launched two other new components for the childhood obesity campaign: Let's Move in Indian Country and Let's Move Museums and Gardens.

The new initiative is being coordinated by Dr. Jim Gavin, from the Partnership for a Healthier America; David Lissy from Bright Horizons Family Solutions; David Bailey from Nemours Foundation; Linda Smith from National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. To best support providers who choose to meet LMCC practices, Nemours is leading an effort to provide free, comprehensive resources and tools in a newly developed website; providers and parents can go to for free tools and resources and to share success stories.

*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks IS HERE.

*Top photo by Samantha Appleton/White House; second by Reuters; third by AP